You know how important probiotics are for gut health, but what about prebiotics? Here’s why they’re important, and which foods contain the most…
As we discover more and more about how gut health impacts our overall health, probiotics have become mainstream in recent years, with even conventional doctors prescribing them on a regular basis. However, one thing you might not hear as much about (yet) is the importance of prebiotics for gut health.
You see, your gut microbes don’t just come in one variety. In fact, just how many types of microbiota actually live inside us is still uncertain, but estimates range in the millions or even trillions! There are hundreds of thousands of types of probiotics alone in your gut, and in order to do your job, they require prebiotics.
But just what are prebiotics, and why are they so important? I’m glad you asked!
Read on to find out…
prebiotics…are a class of plant fiber that’s non-digestible in humans, but that serves as the critical food source for the probiotic bacteria that occupy your colon and bowel.
Probiotics, as you may already know, are the living bacteria that colonize our intestinal tracts and perform a number of important functions related to digestion and immune protection. They’re a natural feature of the gut and body, and prebiotics are their food source. Probiotics consume and ferment this food source in order to increase mineral absorption, promote the production of short-chain fatty acids, protect the intestinal lining, balance hormones, and facilitate the proper elimination of waste.
(It’s important to note here that prebiotics are a form of soluble fiber as opposed to insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is what most people refer to when they talk about “dietary fiber.” It’s basically an indigestible bulking substance that helps to “lubricate” the release of bound-up waste from the bowel.
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, is the prebiotic food that keeps probiotics nourished and happy − equally as important as insoluble fiber but in a different way.)
Unlike probiotics, which are extremely sensitive to heat and stomach acid, prebiotics are virtually indestructible in the human body. As much as 90% of ingested prebiotic fiber is eliminated from the small intestine fully intact. This might sound like a bad thing, but it’s actually critically important because it’s the only way that the entirety of the probiotic ecosystem (which lives all throughout the roughly 28-feet of large and small intestines), is able to receive adequate nourishment.
In other words, our bodies need both prebiotics and probiotics in order for the gastrointestinal tract to function as it should. You can take all the probiotics in the world, but if you aren’t also taking prebiotics, you’re not going to see the results you hope to achieve.
There are two primary prebiotics that your body needs: inulin and oligofructose. There are also two sides to your colon, one side that prefers inulin (the left) and the other that prefers oligofructose (the right). These two prebiotics have been shown to provide maximum nourishment for your internal ecosystem. They help to multiply beneficial bacteria and combat gut dysbiosis, a bacterial imbalance in the gut that can result in indigestion, bloating, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Inulin is technically a long-chain prebiotic fiber that’s digested more slowly, while oligofructose is a short-chain prebiotic that’s digested more quickly. Any true, full-spectrum prebiotic supplement will contain both forms of prebiotic fiber, as well as fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and various other oligoosaccharides, all of which provide symbiotic nourishment in every area of your gut.
Here is a quick look at some foods which contain high levels of prebiotics: